Critics with early access to season 4 have been posting their reviews on the latest season of the hit Netflix Original, which first aired back in July 2016 and immediately won critical acclaim. Stranger Things, which centers on a group of kids and a few late-teen high schoolers’ adventures in a sleepy U.S. town that happens to be at the center of an interdimensional portal/hole, has evolved over its previous three seasons as the actors got older and time marches inexorably onward. So inevitably, changes to the series were going to happen,
And going by the reviews so far, these changes seem most apparent in season 4. For starters, there’s a three-pronged story going on. There’s the Byers family with the now powerless Eleven based in California; the Hawkins ‘crew’ of now older high schoolers are once again embroiled in some mysterious goings on; and Hawkins’ chief of police Jim Hopper, who isn’t dead but is in a Russian prison.
Our colleagues over at TechRadar (opens in new tab) noted this “multi-narrative approach is slightly hit and miss but the “hugely ambitious gamble” largely pays off when it comes to story. TechRadar was joined by IGN (opens in new tab) in highlighting that the split storylines can lead to a bit of genre jumping, with big budget action sequences almost jarring against some of the chilling supernatural horror moments. But tight storytelling and character moments help gloss over this.
Inverse (opens in new tab) also praised Season 4 for being: “remarkably plotted and well-paced, everything has matured in both abstract and literal ways.”
Stranger Things season 4: Same again?
But Polygon’s Petrana Radulovic feels like the character development in season 4 doesn't really reflect what they've gone through together.
Radulovic noted that while the brutality and severity of the threat from the Upside Down has ramped up, the connection between the characters hasn’t evolved with the experiences they’ve shared. She also said that while a lot happens in each episode, “it is more or less the same thing over and over again.” But Radulovic did enjoy the horror elements.
The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab) was a little more down on Stranger Things Season 4, noting some dragging in certain storylines and how the Hawkings gang seems destined to do a lot of the same things as before.
Nevertheless, writer Daniel Fienberg gave Stranger Things season 4 some kudos for aiming to evolve the show’s format.
Stranger Things season 4: The right split?
The first seven episodes of season 4 arriving on May 27, then the last two will be released on July 1 and are set to be lengthy episodes. Linda Codega reckons this will ruin the “drop-in streaming format.”
We’re torn here, as more of a good thing is nice. But a cynic might see this as Netflix's way to keep subscribers engaged, given it’s seen a drop in users. And Stranger Things has been very expensive to make, so the steamer is sure to want to keep people watching the latest season for as long as possible.
Giving Stranger Things season 4 a very positive 4 out of 5 stars, The Telegraph (opens in new tab) also notes that the season is very long with a good handful of episodes pushing 75 minutes; episode seven hits a testing 1 hour and 38 minutes. But reviewer Chris Bennion reckons it’s all worth it, as the “1908s Americana sci-fi is irresistible.”
Stranger Things season 4: High on horror
Most reviewers praised the more horror-centric elements of season 4, though this season seems more unsuitable for children as a result.
Comicbook's Patrick Cavanaugh (opens in new tab) said that after some initial stumbles, Stranger Things season 4 "amps up the terror," which appears to have worked in the show's favor. Though sometimes the show can go too heavy on horror and put people off expecting lighter elements.
Variety's review (opens in new tab) notes: "The new Hawkins beast — which Dustin accurately calls out as a Freddy Krueger facsimile — feels more tactile and viscerally frightening as he preys on teen trauma."
Overall, Stranger Things season 4 appears to be a successful return to the Netflix Original sci-fi show. And while I haven’t seen it yet, I’m definitely intrigued by the shaking up of the formula; I enjoyed all three seasons of Stranger Things, but there was a feeling that something needs to evolve to continue to keep my attention.
Stranger Things Season 4 is likely to be a must-watch for many, and could be the shot in the arm Netflix needs to avoid hemorrhaging more subscribers this summer.